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The Artist’s Way – week three

This chapter has been a nightmare.
Not through the exercises it’s asked me to do, but for multitude of reasons, including the death of a friend, which meant that a lot of things got deprioritised.

Thinking through who I admire and why, some (most) of my choices felt superficial. I know that they were based on the public persona of famous people, but I look up to the persona, not the person. I still love Ray Bradbury’s prose, even though I disagree with some of his personal opinions, and I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher and I would have very little in common, but – based on what I know of her – she seemed amazing.

In the last few days, I’ve also started dreaming again. Nothing that makes any sense, and nothing that I can recall in the cold light of day, but I did recall having a dream for the first time in years.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • I’m pretty sure Quirk and Robbie are on their way out. It’s sad, but I tried my best. Apparently potting trees from the wild has a very low success rate. They might come back, once they’ve had time to recover. Only time will tell.
  • Real life taking priority. Everything in its own time, but it’s still a little frustrating.

Morning pages:

I feel better for writing them, but I’m not sure they’re reaching as deeply as they need to. I definitely felt better about my bereavement after writing about it, but I think there’s more deep-seated stuff that I need to excavate and the pages aren’t touching it yet.

Artist’s date:

I honestly can’t remember what I did for this. At one point, I said I was going to learn a magic trick, but I haven’t yet. I baked, maybe? Had a lie-in?

Verdict:

This week dragged on so long and it’s been such a mental and emotional rollercoaster, I can’t remember most of it. I know I said working through this in my own time was fine, but I think I’ll try to pick up the pace!

The Artist’s Way – week two

This one got off to a tricky start. I didn’t re-read the chapter, and so missed out on some of the instructions, and took two weeks to complete this one. It’s okay, I’m doing this on my own and I can go at my own pace.

This chapter, Cameron talks a lot about “crazymakers” (her word, not mine). People who turn up at inopportune times and wreck your plans with utter disregard for your feelings or wellbeing. I don’t seem to have any in my life – they sound like the sort of ‘friends’ I’ve avoided or excised – so, instead of trying to disentangle myself from them, I examined my own behaviour. After all, Cameron said that such people are often blocked creative. I don’t thrive on attention – quite the opposite – and the idea of upsetting my friends genuinely concerns me. I could stand to do better (everyone could, probably), but the person I sabotage the most is myself.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Morning pages

Morning pages:

I had a chat with my therapist about them and he thinks they’re probably useful. He also suggested only writing two of them if time was an issue. I was hesitant – I’d noticed that I start to uncover some significant thought processes around the one-and-a-half-pages mark and didn’t want to jeopardise that, but he reckons that the brain – when confronted with a finite amount of time/space – will put off doing the important work until it absolutely has to and that, by shaving a page off my writing, I’ll come to the same conclusions half a page earlier. I’ve been trying that for a few days, and it seems to be working out.

Artist’s date
I planned to go somewhere new this week, but life intervened and I ended up gardening instead (making hay while the sun shines). It’s been a while since I gardened and, in one of those fantastic coincidences, a chance conversation has reignited my old interest in bonsai at the same time that my weeding uncovered some oak saplings that had planted themselves way too close to the house, so I’m now the caretaker of two bonsai oak trees.

Quirk and Robbie
Quirk and Robbie

Because I’m a shameless nerd, I’ve dubbed them Quirk and Robbie. Quirk (in the foremost pot in the photo), and is a single root ball with with four trunks; pragmatic and fmily-orientated. Robbie (in the hindmost pot) may have become detatched from Quirk while I was digging them up, but is now an independant young thing looking to establish his own identity  (having given them name and personalities, their inevitable deaths as a result of my incompetence will crush me, but that’s future me’s problem).

Verdict:

All things considered, this was a pretty chill week. The topics of my morning pages are still varying wildly – ideas for The Story With No Name one day, musings on mortality and grief the next, and whinging about how tired I am the day after. It’s a process and I am finding it useful; the switch to two pages doesn’t seem to have affected that too much.
I rated adventure and spirituality as the weakest points of my life this week, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to fill them up. Meditation has, ironically, been pushed out of my morning routine more often than not because the morning pages ran long. That said, the weather’s nice so I’m in the garden more and been trying to pay more attention to my environment during my my lunchtime walks, and I’m feeling more grounded in reality than I used to.

The Artist’s Way – week one

Having started this week with an attitude of “get it done and get to the good stuff”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how cathartic some of the exercises have been. The artist’s date – a page from a ‘mindfulness’ colouring book – was particularly refreshing, and the exercise to write a letter to a champion led me to look up my old art teacher and find he’s still exhibiting.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • writing the letters – short tasks are easier to fit into a busy schedule and, psychologically, ‘writing a letter’ is not a short task. When I actually got on with it, each letter was 20 minutes, tops.
  •  actually finding all the tasks – the Core Beliefs exercise, referenced in later weeks, is hidden in the middle of the chapter and I had to go dig for it. Lesson learned for the future – re-read the chapter before diving in.
  • finding time to do the morning pages. Cameron says leave 30 minutes, but I’m clocking in about 50. My regular morning routine is suffering because, despite getting up earlier, I only have time to do my pages before rushing off to work. That said, they’ve led to some noticeable mood shifts, so they’re clearly unjamming something in there.

Morning pages:
My fight with the morning pages led me to look up other people who have struggled with them and found that there might be some contraindications for neuroatypical folk: Morning pages might not be the artist’s way

I don’t know that my pages have led me to dwell on negative thoughts – beyond how blasted tired I am – but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Artist’s date

As far as the artist’s date activity goes, I also haven’t done anything resembling play for a very long time – a dearth of time and a surfeit of stress means all that went out of the window years ago – so I’m cribbing date ideas from Ellen Bard’s list 101 ideas to boost your creativity.

This week’s date was a page from a colouring book. I’m sure the spooky ghooosts and creepy castles were seasonally-appropriate when I bought the magazine (back in 2015) – like I said: it’s been a while since I just let myself play around. It was really quite pleasant.

And then I immediately regretted wasting an afternoon on such frivolity. Baby steps.

Verdict:
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m feeling generally positive. This week wasn’t too rough, except for the damage to my morning schedule. I’m looking forward to next week.

The Artist’s Way – overview

I’ve owned a copy of The Artist’s Way for maybe ten years, but never actually started it (I did two days of morning pages when I first bought the book but immediately fell out of the habit and never picked it back up). Such is the life of a lot of my textbooks and workbooks. But I’ve decided that 2018 is the year I scale the foothills of my to-read pile; TAW is on the list, so here we go.

I’m starting by reading through the book before beginning the program, and I can already feel this is going to be a slog.

I understand that The Artist’s Way is based on a 12-step program and that surrendering to a higher power is part of that, but I’m not as religious as I once was and the frequent references to God/a creator are off-putting. In the early chapters, the tone is overly reassuring – bordering on coddling – and I feel spoken down to. Maybe it’s something other people will get more out of, but it’s not my thing and reading it was more a case of pushing through than actually enjoying it.
The early chapters didn’t throw anything up that I felt strongly about; I’ve been seeing a therapist for a while now, so maybe I’ve already worked through some of the baggage these chapters are designed to help with. Certainly, week one’s “write a letter to the editor in your defence” sounds like behaviour I would have indulged in a long time ago, but now it just seems silly. I’ll still do it – I’m either going to go through the program properly or not at all – but I don’t know how much I’ll get out of it.

Weeks three and four sound much more difficult. The idea of being ashamed of creating, of seeking impossible acceptance, already raises some feelings, and I’m so immediately opposed to the idea of reading deprivation that I know it’s going to throw up something profound.
The weeks get harder as they progress (obviously), digging deeper into things I thought I’d dealt with already but just reading the chapter immediately flags these up as something I’m going to have to work at.

Week seven is about perfectionism and jealousy, two things I thought I’d grown out of, but – even just skim-reading the book for an overview – I’m remembering feeling jealous of people for this or that as recently as a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s not something you ever grow out of , but we’ll see what’s under the surface.

Week eight is going to be looking at anxiety and procrastination. The notion of being too old is something I particularly struggled with in my 20s , and I still have Feelings about this topic, apparently.

Weeks nine and ten are about confronting fear disguised as self-recrimination, and self-sabotage respectively. I have an inkling this will be another emotional fortnight; I can feel the shape of the things I’ll be dealing with in these areas, even if not the fine detail.

The later exercises had less focus on letting go and letting the creator work or, at least the focus was less obvious. The last two chapters are about support systems and self-care and there’s an refrain that reminds me of a number of other books on creativity and the process of making art – that great artists share and they support each other. That the process of making art is an end unto itself, and that any fame and fortune that might or might not come with that is incidental.

My therapist said that all the self-help books in the world are just reiterating the same thing over and over but contextualising it differently. The trick is, he reckons, to find one that resonates with you.
A quick read-through suggests to me that TAW is more self-help than creativity manual, but it’s got a reputation and I’m reading it as part of my artistic development, so it goes on the blog.

All in all, I think I’ll definitely gain something from working through the book (even if it’s just shelf space after I pass it on), but only if I’m open to the ideas within and willing to put in the work. Each week concludes with a check-in, which I’ll be blogging about.

On with week one.

How not to launch a Patreon

Launching a successful Patreon is quite an endeavour. From building an audience and gathering a mailing list to setting pledge levels and arranging rewards, there’s so much to do and it all has to be done right and in the right order. Happily, flubbing a Patreon launch is so much easier!
This simple, six-step process will have you with a desolate Patreon and a looming, yet vague, feeling of obligation to hypothetical future patrons in no time!

  1. Make a Patreon account – Obviously, you’ll want to reserve a good URL. Only jerks URL squat, but you’ve got a brand to protect, so it’s okay.
  2. Set up your page, using to best pictures you have to hand, despite a less-than stellar portfolio – You can work on the content later, when people are giving you money based on your promises and obvious potential!
  3. Create some posts – It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can figure it out as you go but, for now, just create some content. Patrons can read through old content while they wait for you to upload new stuff.
  4. Launch the page! – You don’t need a big launch, just moxy, grit and a can-do attitude.
  5. Make something, anything – Things you could post include advance access to blog posts. Maybe it’ll give you the impetus to write more often!
  6. Give it a few months, then tell people you have a Patreon using a click-bait blog post.

For more articles on learning to be a professional artist, support me on Patreon.

Seriously, though. I’d been umming and ahhing over making a Patreon page for a long time and decided to have a look at what it is and how it works. I accidentally launched the page while editing it and couldn’t find a way to un-launch it.
I’d been listening to the Fizzle show podcast and got concerned that, without a large social media following and a sizeable mailing list, I’d blown my chance of a successful launch and damned myself to abject failure. Fortunately, a few months later, I was accepted into the Tiny Dragons artbook and was able to piggyback off that success to tell people I had the blasted thing:

I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing with Patreon, but I’m getting there.

That link again: https://www.patreon.com/cheerfulomelette

Because I’m not super awkward about self-promotion or anything.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Chapter 9

Portraiture is a challenging field, both because everyone knows what a face looks like and will be able to tell when something about it is off, but also because our symbolic language is geared towards faces, even to the point of seeing faces in random patterns (a phenomenon known as pareidolia).

Because of the challenges in observing the proportions of a face and reproducing them to such a degree that the face is recognisable, and the struggle to overcome the intrinsic symbol language, combined with the immediate feedback in recognising when a face isn’t correct, realistic portraits are ideal subjects for practice.

Because of these challenges, students often feel that drawing portraits, particularly recognisable ones, is beyond their reach, but drawing a head requires no more skill than drawing anything else.
The problem with portraiture is the same problem with any drawing requiring “painstaking accuracy” – that we naturally enlarge things we feel are important and reduce things we feel aren’t. This occurs in the brain as part of its basic data processing, long before we try to put pencil to paper, and helps to winnow the useless from the vitally important. This isn’t great for drawing but, happily, it can be overcome with practice.

We tend to overcompensate particularly when faced with optical illusions. Edwards offers an exercise wherein the artist stands in front of a mirror at arm’s length, and observes their reflection. Although it appears to be live size, if they then make a mark on the mirror showing the positions of the top of the head and the chin and step aside, the marks will only be a few inches apart.

This reduction of less important detail leads to two major issues: placing the eye line too high on the face, and misplacing the ear in profile.
The eye issue occurs when the student shows themselves to disregard the height of the forehead and visible scalp.

From person to person, the position of the ear doesn’t vary by much, which makes it a key landmark when determining the width of the head in profile. The distance from the chin to the corner of the eye is the same as the distance from the back of the eye to the edge of the ear.
Visualising an equilateral triangle can help cement this relationship in the minds of the student.

When drawing portraits, remember the following points:

  • Focus on complex edges and negative spaces until you feel the shift to the visual processing mindset
  • Estimate the angles in relation to the vertical and horizontal
  • Draw what you see, without labeling or identifying elements
  • Draw what you see without resorting to symbolism and assumptions
  • Estimate the relationships between sizes
  • Observe and record proportions as they are, recognising the brain’s habit of changing things to suit it.

Questions to ask when drawing portraits:

  • Where is the point the hairline meets the forehead?
  • Where is the outermost curve of the tip of the nose?
  • What is the angle of the forehead?
  • What is the negative space between the hairline and the top of the nose?
  • If you draw a line between the top of the nose and the chin, what is
    the angle of that line relative to the vertical or horizontal?
  • What is the negative shape created by that line?
  • Where is the curve of the front of the neck, relative to the crosshairs?
  • What is the relative space between the chin and the neck?
  • Where is the edge of the ear in relation to the corner of the eye?
  • Where does the head join the neck?
  • What is the angle of the back of the neck?

Using negative spaces and relative measurements, anything – including a face – fits together like a jigsaw.

I couldn’t get a family member to sit still long enough to draw, so used a stock photo: Source

My copy of the workbook ends this section with a drawing of an American flag, or other striped object. The intent of this exercise is to highlight the importance of drawing what you can see, not what you expect to see, but I felt the point was somewhat lost on a non-American audience (owning a national flag is largely considered ‘a bit weird’ in the UK).

I substituted in a striped t-shirt, but I don’t feel like I had any preconceived notions of what it looked like and drawing it didn’t feel like it required much in the way of mental gymnastics. Short of buying a union flag specifically for this purpose, I’m not sure how I would fix the exercise.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Chapter 8

Edwards’ third basic drawing skill is seeing relationships between objects, enabling the artist to accurately depict perspective and proportion. So fundamental is this skill, Edwards likens it to grammar, and I can see why – without a grasp of these relationships, a picture cannot hang together, regardless of the artist’s skill in rendering.
Edwards opts to skip teaching the reader about vanishing points and the mechanics of perspective in favour of sighting.
Sighting is a multi-part skill, comprising firstly of sighting angles relative to vertical and horizontal markers, and secondly of sighting relative proportions. Each measurement is made relative to a constant so that the brain is comparing ‘thing’ to ‘thing’, instead of naming objects or measuring absolute distances. The use of ratios enables the student to overcome their known reality to accurately recreate the illusion of reality on the paper.

Linear perspective is a relatively recent invention, originating from Renaissance Europe. Other cultures developed their own approach to spacial relationships, notably the stepped perspective of Egyptian and East Asian art, where depth is represented vertically and objects higher up the page are understood to be further in distance from the viewer. Distant objects are often rendered the same size and with the same level of detail as near objects.

Albrecht Dürer’s perspective machine (illustrated by Dürer’s own Artist Drawing a Nude with Perspective Device and Man Drawing a Lute) was a simple frame, strung with a grid of thread or wire, and held at a fixed position. A marker on the frame ensured that the artist was always viewing the sitter or scene from the same point (something I have struggled with while doing the exercises in this book). By recreating what is visible through the grid in the manner that it is visible the artist is able to create accurate drawings, using foreshortening to create the illusion of objects receding into space.

Something that I struggled with throughout this chapter is sighting angles. I’m far more comfortable sighting the ends of a diagonal, or points of a diagonal, and joining them up, and need to practice sighting angles, at least so I  can compare the two methods.

Notes on sighting angles:

  • angles are sighted against vertical and horizons constants
  • angles are sighted on the picture plane. Care must be taken to maintain the integrity of the plane
  • creating the illusion of reality will always involve close observation of perceived forms  and the rejection of known forms (symbol language).
  • use the triangular negative shape created between the constant and the diagonal to accurately describe the angle.
  • do not determine an angle to be at 45°, 30°, etc. I do this currently, but Edwards explicitly counsels against it.
  • when deciding between a vertical or horizontal constant, Edwards recommends whichever will make the smaller angle.

Advice for perspective drawing:

  • work from part to adjacent part
  • keep checking relationships
  • use negative spaces – focusing only on positive shapes weakens a drawing
  • areas of light and shadow are signed in exactly the same way as the shapes

“If in your drawing you habitually disregard proportions, you become accustomed to the sight of distortion and lose critical ability. A person living in squalor eventually gets used to it.” (Robert Henri, The Art Spirit)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Chapter 7

Negative spaces are the spaces between and around the subject, and the observation of those spaces makes up the second of Edwards’ five basic skills of drawing.

Edwards provides an example of work by one of their students students, showing their struggle to draw an object they know and their inability to break away from calling on symbol language, and compares it to the same subject drawn by the same student using only negative spaces, and the difference is night and day.
Since edges are shared boundaries, the edge of any object is also the edge of the negative space. By drawing the negative shape, we free ourself from what we think we know and are able to draw what we see. A particularly useful trick when drawing foreshortening.



Composition is the way components or the drawing are arranged. Key components include positive space, negative space and format (canvas size), and are arranged with the goal of unity in mind.
When starting from life, inexperienced artists often fail to grasp the boundaries of their picture and by addressing this, the most egregious flaws in composition rectify themselves.
A child has a full awareness of the canvas when they draw, says Edwards, but this trait drops off in adolescents as young artists concentrate on individual objects at the expense of the whole. The subject becomes the most important thing and the background becomes an afterthought.

“You can never have the use of the inside of a cup without the outside. The inside and the outside go together. They’re one.” – Alan Watts

On sighting, Edwards says: “All proportions are found by comparing everything to the basic unit”.
The basic unit is a distance based on something within the scene – a head-height, the width of a door, or the length of a gap, for example (note the inclusion of negative space) – that everything else is measured from. If a head is one unit, a body might be seven and a half units tall.

Dr Ph Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Watercolor

After picking up a cheap bottle of Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus liquid watercolour from my local art shop a few months ago, I spent a while looking for a place to use it. I found my excuse in a painting of a friend’s dog – a beautiful black and orange pup who’s portrait was crying out a strong base colour.

I’m not normally a watercolourist, but the colour of this paint is just ridiculous (I thought the Brilliant Cad Red I bought was a neon orange when I first saw it) and I’m such a sucker for vibrant colours it was inevitable that I bought more.

Set two of Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus Fine Art Watercolour contains:
  • Hansa Deep Yellow
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Permanent Red
  • Cobalt
    Blue
  • Indian Red
  • Viridian Green
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Alizarin
    Crimson
  • Sepia
  • Payne’s Gray
  • Sap Green
  • Burnt Umber

Add to that the bottle I already had, and the result is a very generous
spread of colour. I’ll probably add a colour here and there as I go on
(I’m already eyeing up a more brilliant yellow and a second blue) but
I’ve got plenty to be getting on with.

The paint is amazing; I think I’m in love.
Being pre-mixed, it skips the frustrating “not quite enough pigment, not quite enough water” balancing act I struggle with when I use pan paints, and it blends beautifully – perhaps because the increased liquid content stops it drying too quickly and forming hard edges.
When it is dry, it layers nicely and the previous washes seem to resist being picked up by subsequent layers.

We’re going to make some beautiful paintings together,  I can tell already.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – chapter 6

Bypassing the symbol-system of the verbal brain requires work and directed study. The last chapter inverted the subject, this chapter features pure contour drawing.
More pure contour drawing of crumpled paper or flowers
Pure contour drawing is an effective way of freeing up the visual brain that because it involves the close examination of large amounts of data that can’t be classified or sorted. It’s the first step in the perception of edges.
The picture plane is analogous to Speed’s ‘flat colours on the retina’ – a two dimensional representation of a  three dimensional scene. The modified contour drawing is designed to introduce the concept and to convince novice artists that realistic drawing really isn’t that hard.